Radio Wave's new English-language podcast chronicles survivor stories from Norway's mass attacks

Lukáš Houdek offers profound insight into Norway's worst-ever killing, weaving a poignant narrative through eyewitness stories and exploring the aftermath.

Thomas Smith

Written by Thomas Smith Published on 05.01.2024 16:00:00 (updated on 05.01.2024) Reading time: 5 minutes

How do you cope after the death of a child? Can you ever be the same after witnessing your best friend be killed? How should the media portray a mass killer?

As Czechia reels from the effects of the largest mass shooting in its history, a recently released podcast by Czech journalist Lukáš Houdek sheds light on another horrific shooting – the July 2011 Utøya and Oslo attacks in Norway that saw 77 people killed.

On July 22, 2011, right-wing extremist Anders Breivik detonated a bomb outside the executive government quarter in the Norwegian capital, killing eight and injuring 12 people severely.

Two hours later, he traveled to the island of Utøya – the venue of a summer camp for the youth wing of the then-ruling left-wing Labor Party. Dressed as a policeman to evade suspicion, Breivik opened fire on tens of unsuspecting teenagers, tragically killing 69 in total.

Titled “Surviving Utøya and Oslo,” this seven-series podcast meets a group people who experienced the attacks firsthand, speaking to those whose lives were irrevocably changed after July 2011, as well as family and friends of innocent people brutally and suddenly murdered. 

“[The victims] were young, active people…just like me. It hit me hard.”

Lukáš Houdek, creator of the podcast

Over 12 years after the attacks, the news that initially shocked the world has faded into the background of media attention. Houdek traveled to Norway this summer to find out what happened to those affected by the attacks. This candid and touching podcast series provides insight into their stories, and shows how Norway transformed after the attacks.

Coming face to face with the killer

“My friend came up to Breivik – he shot her three times.” “I lost all my memory from before the attack. My actual memory starts from July 22, 2011. Most of my life and who I was before the attack was wiped out.” These are just some of the comments from survivors of the Utøya shooting.

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In the first episode, the podcast hears the accounts of people at the main government building and island who saw the chaos unfold. “I saw a policeman…all of a sudden, I heard gunshots and I saw a lot of people run toward the main headquarters in Utøya,” said one survivor. 

Another survivor recounts: “I look to my right, and that’s where I see the friend I was hiding with. She is lying on her stomach with her head turned away from me – and I can tell instantly that she’s dead.”

“I see a person coming towards us, and I recognize it’s Breivik – I’m going to die. I lay down and hope it’ll be over soon.”

Houdek also asks important questions, such as why it took Norwegian police over an hour from the first alert about events on the island to arrive at Utøya.

Coping with life afterward

Another episode focuses on “survivor’s guilt,” and the mental health trauma associated with witnessing a mass murder. Cecilie, who lost part of her arm in the attacks, and her mother speak about their recovery in the years after the attack. “Cecilie’s phone was off during the attack…we could not reach her. Those were the worst hours of my life,” says Elin, Cecilie’s mother.

She speaks of recurrent depression and anxiety since the attacks, often burdened with internal questions asking why she was able to survive and why others – such as her best friend – were killed.

The podcast also interviews Nille, who was working in the government building at the time of the bomb explosion, and her experiences with post-traumatic stress disorder after the attack. She recounts her way of coping after July 22 – to stay busy – and gives her view on why she feels the survivors of the Oslo government attack are overlooked by the state. 

Photo: Lukáš Houdek
Photo: Lukáš Houdek

Trying to understand

Houdek also speaks to another person who was on the island during the massacre, Bjørn, and his alternative approach to dealing with the attack. One coping mechanism for him was to understand how any person could ever become someone like Breivik. “I went to his trial, listened to what he had to say, and tried to understand it, from an intellectual perspective. And surprise, surprise – none of it made sense,” he summarized.

“My approach to dealing with trauma and dealing with extremism in the first place is different. I come at it from a restorative justice angle, instead of being driven by pain and fear and anger. I wanted to heal and learn. To look forward. And a lot of people weren’t ready for that at the time.”

Losing your memory – or a child

The podcast also hears Jørgen’s story – after the shooting, he experienced almost complete memory loss of how his life was before the attack. He describes how for two years he didn’t “feel anything,” and felt almost “like a monster” as a result. “My friends from before July 2011 would come up to me and say: ‘I don’t know you,’” he commented.

Touchingly, the podcast also features an interview with a mother who lost her 16-year-old daughter on July 22 and her story of how she coped with the immense grief in the months after her loss. “I had to work with my trauma and sorrow in a good way. I didn’t want to run away from the hurt,” said Unni. 

"Whenever I came into a store – and this happened for at least a year after – I saw something in everyone’s eyes. When they saw me, they saw trauma. It feels so bad seeing everyone look at you with pure sadness in their eyes. When you are trying to move forward, it hinders that whole process.”

The mother also recounts her experience of coming face-to-face with her daughter’s killer in court. “I decided that I won’t waste time being angry – because it’s only me who would be hurt,” she commented. Unni wanted to use her energy to give meaning to, and help, others also affected by the massacre. 

How do you portray a mass killer?

The series rounds off by speaking about ethical considerations following the attack: how should the media refer to Breivik? And what treatment should he get in prison? The podcast also touches upon how exactly Norway’s young generation is being taught about the attack to prevent such an atrocity from ever happening again.

This podcast is an excellent and touching piece of journalism, exploring the heartfelt stories of those who witnessed the attacks, looked death in the eye, and also people who lost loved ones on July 22, 2011. Aside from providing harrowing firsthand accounts of the massacre, the podcast also explores insights into psychologically dealing with the attack, how the country should portray the killer, and how Norway and its people pulled together since.

"Anders Breivik confronts Norwegian society with a series of ethical questions that speak to deeply rooted democratic principles."

The series is well worth a listen for anyone who wants to learn more about Norway’s 2011 attacks and its societal ramifications as well as explore difficult ethical questions on how a country deals with a mass killer. Following Prague’s shocking December shooting, now is an especially relevant time to learn how Norway’s lessons can be applied to Czechia.

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